Hikers exploring the wilderness outside of Atlin, B.C.: do not be alarmed. Your senses are not deceiving you.
That really is coffee you’re smelling.
About 12 kilometres outside of town, Leandra Brient and her husband Philippe live off the grid on a four-acre property.
There, the eco-conscious owners of Atlin Mountain Coffee Roasters are selling lots of caffeine without much of a mark on the environment.
Instead of a conventional roaster, which usually depends on propane or natural gas for heat, the Brients roast their beans burning pine wood fallen around the property.
“Apparently you can smell it from up on the road when we’re roasting,” Leandra said. “We’ve had people hiking in the neighbourhood say that they smelled us roasting.”
The couple first opened a cafe in Atlin in 2012 where they sold coffee and roasted their own beans.
They once spent three years travelling around the world on bicycles and always enjoyed tasting the different coffees, she said.
“We thought the best way to offer fresh-roasted coffee was if we roast it ourselves.”
Over time, the demand for the beans grew. They closed the cafe within a year to focus full-time on roasting.
Brient says they’re always looking for ways to make less of an impact on the environment.
“We didn’t really want to be dependent on propane and trucking it up here. We felt that would be too much of a waste.”
So they began looking for a greener roaster. The one they discovered is actually “Ferrari” red.
The new roaster the Brients use was custom-built in Italy. It arrived in September.
The central contraption has two drums, one inside the other, with the beans in the middle. The drums spin inside what is essentially a brick oven.
A fire underneath heats up the bricks and roasts the beans.
It’s the double-drum design that makes the machine extra sustainable, Brient said.
Thanks to that layer of extra lining, the smoke from the wood never comes into contact with the beans. That means they don’t have to worry about the smoke affecting the flavour.
As far as they can tell, that difference makes their custom contraption the first of its kind in Canada, she said.
“There are two other coffee roasters in Canada that use wood heat. But with them the smoke touches the beans and so then you have to use maple, and applewood, and those exotic woods because then the flavour is affected.”
Instead the pair are able to use pine from around the property.
It takes 15 to 20 minutes to roast one 10-kilogram batch of coffee. Two kilograms of wood will get them through about half a day, Brient said.
Atlin Mountain Coffee Roasters offer what’s called “single-origin coffees,” meaning they don’t sell blends.
“This way people can really taste the specific flavours and aromas of the farm where they come from. It’s more of a unique experience.”
The company sells 12 different products - four different beans from around the world available in light, medium and dark roasts.
The couple weighs the beans, bags them, and sells them at grocery stores in town and to some restaurants and bars.
They also have a coffee wagon open in the summer months which they expect to take to this year’s Dawson City Music Festival.
In Whitehorse, the beans are sold at Farmer Robert’s.
Roasting over a wood fire with a dry heat locks oil into the beans and gives them more flavour, Brient said. “They have a lightly sweeter taste than conventional coffee.”
Using wood is also a more complex experience for the person doing the roasting, she said.
A roaster has to know when to add wood and how much more to add, she said.
“We can really feel ‘one’ with the beans and really control the roasting process better with our finger tips. We feel more involved, if you want. Rather than turning the gas on and off. It’s a real art.”
Like always, the Brients are still looking for ways to make their business more sustainable.
They’re considering installing solar panels in the rest of the roastery building, meaning the entire business would be run off of renewable energy.
“We’re surrounded by all this natural beauty here. We thought we wanted to roast a bit more in harmony with our surroundings and this would be a great way of doing that.”
Contact Ashley Joannou at